November 5, 2023

UMich receives $81 million NIH grant to improve dementia care

The Michigan Daily interviewed Dr. Donovan Maust 

link to the original article 

The National Dementia Workforce Study, led by the University of Michigan, received funding last month expected to amount to $81 million over the next five years. The study is funded through the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Aging. The researchers will use data collected from this study to create a large data research infrastructure to assist efforts to improve dementia care.

The study involves researchers from universities across the country, including the University of California, San Francisco, the University of North Carolina, the University of Pennsylvania, Brown University and Yale University, as well as organizations like the Alzheimer’s Association and Mathematica Inc.

In the study, researchers will send out surveys to both those receiving care for dementia and those working in the field of treating dementia. Participants who treat dementia will receive one of four different surveys depending on their connection to the field. Nursing assistants, home and personal care aids, physician assistants, nurse practitioners and clinical staff at facilities that house dementia patients will be surveyed starting in 2024.

In an interview with The Michigan Daily Joanne Spetz, the study’s co-principal investigator, said it is important to realize how health workers are at the center of all health systems. 

“The health workforce is really the core in any health system,” Spetz said. “Health care is not delivered by robots, it is delivered by people. And the patients that live with dementia have very specific coordinates and issues that are challenging.”

Spetz said the study will aim to improve dementia care for patients by observing the workforce that serves people with dementia. Spetz spoke more in-depth about the implications she hopes the study will have for the future of dementia care. 

“There is a dual goal of understanding this workforce better, especially the ones who are on the frontlines,” Spetz said. “In the big picture, we are able to measure and hopefully shape policies, programs and practices to overall improve the care that people with dementia receive every day.”

Donovan Maust, geriatric psychiatrist and health care data researcher at Michigan Medicine, leads the NDWS team. Maust spoke with The Daily about how types of health care for dementia patients is very specific to the patient. 

“This is going to be an increasingly big problem as a society we need to address,” Maust said. “In a lot of health care for dementia patients, the care that is received depends on the clinician the patient sees, not what the individual needs.”

Music for Dementia is a student organization that seeks to improve dementia health care by providing patient-specific solutions. The organization consists of volunteers who perform live music at nursing homes for patients in the memory care unit. LSA junior Sarisha Mahajan, research coordinator of Music for Dementia, spoke with The Daily about the grant’s implications for their organization. 

“I think surveying care takers in many different settings such as at-home care, in nursing homes, and in hospitals will be a great way to improve and standardize care as these settings can all look very different,” Mahajan said. “I think another important factor that this grant will focus on is how we can improve dementia care to help the caretakers avoid burnout and high turnovers as their work can often be strenuous and mentally draining.”

Daily Staff Reporter Emma Lapp can be reached at [email protected].